Why You Should Visit Acadia National Park Anytime This Year

Acadia National Park is New England's coastal oasis—rugged beaches, beautiful trails, and glacier-carved granite cliffs.

By: Chris Mongeau + Save to a List

I am an advocate for all of our National Parks and openly encourage anyone I know who's asking me for advice on planning their next trip to seek the outdoors and take advantage of the beautiful landscapes our country has to offer. 

Rather than a beach resort on an island in the Caribbean, I am the person who will recommend dusting off that camping gear and making a list of must-see parks within a specific region. Of all the parks, I don't think I can possibly recommend Acadia more than anywhere else when I'm asked for tips on where to visit in the northeast (and anywhere for that matter).

A round island rises from a large body of water. The shoreline is dotted with rocks and the water and sky has the orange tint of a sunset or sunrise.

Acadia National Park is a 47,000-acre coastal area located on Maine's Mt. Desert Island. The quaint and historic town of Bar Harbor is the hub for activities like whale watching, fishing, eating, and shopping for supplies. 

There are only two campgrounds within the park—Blackwoods Campground and Seawall Campground, however, there are many other sites just outside the parks limits. Roughly 5,000 people call Bar Harbor home year round, but in the summer, this population more than triples and the park itself sees over 2 million visitors each year. 

So, here's the deal: There are much bigger and more dramatic parks out there to visit. There are much higher mountains, longer trail networks, better camping options (there is no backcountry in Acadia), and more abundant wildlife in other places throughout the U.S. I think visiting all of those other places is great and highly recommended. This being said, there is nowhere else quite like Mt. Desert Island. 

A short, rocky cliff is covered in evergreen trees. The water below is white and frothy.

True to the characteristics of most larger National Parks, you will most likely lose service after entering the park's boundaries. This, in so many ways, is an incredible benefit in my opinion. It can be very difficult in New England to feel disconnected. 

It's a small place, and there are very few places you can go on vacation without cell service. Sure, you'll be back on LTE the minute you enter Bar Harbor, but while you're in the park, by some chance miracle, you probably won't be able to use your phone, which will allow you to tune into everything around you and appreciate the landscape—the pine forests growing right up to the edge of sheer, granite cliffs that drop to the ocean, the pristine lakes and morning fog that moves through the mountains and out to sea. 

You might get lucky and spot a herd of deer, or a moose. You will probably sea a bald eagle if you pay close attention. 

It's regarded as a summer destination with emphasis on the fall foliage as well during the end of September and beginning of October. However, I have visited in off-season months like March, November, and the middle of winter, and can still recommend a trip here any chance you get. One thing to keep in mind during the winter is that the Park Loop Road does close, but if you're into snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, this is a perfect place to do that

Looking out over a calm lake with fog rolling in. Trees at the shoreline are turning orange and yellow.

Despite living in New England for my entire life, Acadia actually is not a place I visited until very recently as an adult. My family always stuck to the traditions we had in New Hampshire and Vermont, and Maine was a place I just started exploring within the last 5 years for the most part. 

In one word, the ocean is what differentiates Acadia from the White and Green Mountains, or the Lakes Region in NH. The mountains, all under 1,500 feet tall (with the exception of Cadillac hitting that 1,529 foot mark), feel much taller being at sea-level. No matter where you go within the park, the sights and sounds of the rugged New England coast will be nearby. 

On my first visit to Acadia, I somehow managed to score a spot at the coveted Blackwoods Campground on Labor Day weekend. I slept in the back of my truck after getting in late to wake up early and catch the famed sunrise from Cadillac Mountain. It was every bit as touristy and silly as you can imagine: dozens of SUV's and mini vans unloading families unfamiliar with Maine's cold weather (low 40's even on summer mornings), the dreaded bus or two.

I didn't have it in me that morning to hike after driving six hours to get there, so I drove up the Cadillac Summit Road like everyone else, made my coffee on the tailgate of my truck and waited for the red glow to burst over the horizon.

Looking downward at a lake surrounded by trees turning yellow and orange.

And honestly, as touristy as it feels, it's down right beautiful and worth doing. You can read more about spending time on Cadillac. For a more personal and less crowded experience, stop at the Blue Hills Overlook just before the summit and meander along the top of the mountain to find your own place to take everything in. 

This is also the place for sunset views as the sun fades behind the hills. Each time I visit Acadia, I make this my routine for the first morning I'm there. If you're visiting during the summer, you can do all of this before 8:00AM with the sunrise usually being before 5:00AM. 

A black and white image of a large lake with fog rolling in over mountains in the distance.

Don't think the only reason for visiting Acadia is to watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain. There are so many other great hikes, walks, and climbs worth checking out. One of my new favorites is the Beehive Trail, a short but steep climb up the granite cliffs that overlook Sand Beach and the ocean. 

Then there's the Gorham Mountain Trail, a better option with similar views but much safer for kids and anyone with a fear of heights. The Great Head Trail is another awesome shorter hike in this area. A personal recommendation for sunset is to visit the Bass Harbor Lighthouse, located a short distance away by car in Tremont. 

A from-above view of  a lake with low-hanging clouds. There are evergreen trees and trees with orange and yellow leaves along the shoreline.

I think Acadia often gets a reputation for simply being a summer destination. It can get cold in the off season months, but to me, the solitude is all the more reason to visit. 

I have spent some of the best spring and fall mornings in New England walking completely alone on Sand Beach or around Eagle Lake. So, if you get the chance this year, even if it's not in the warmer months, make a trip up to Acadia National Park.

Looking through evergreen trees at a rocky shoreline dotted with more trees.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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